Sumerlands, Sumerlands (Relapse Records, 2016)

Since I was lucky enough to have older friends when I was in junior high school back in the mid to late '80s, I got the chance to see many local gigs at places like L'Amour (both the Brooklyn and Queens locations) and the Sundance out on Long Island. That means I also saw my fair share of terrible local metal bands. But before I became consumed by everything death metal in 1990, I did manage to catch some killer acts that never quite broke beyond the "local band" label. Off the top of my head, Cities certainly comes to mind.

Most of these outifts boasted a powerhouse vocalist and wrote metal songs that reminded me of such bands as Queensrÿche, Lizzy Borden, and Savatage. Featuring the union of former Hour of 13/Atlantean Kodex vocalist Phil Swanson and producer/guitarist Arthur Rizk, Sumerlands reminds me of those childhood gigs I attended in the late '80s. The quintet strikes up a potent style of heavy metal that reminds me of the best parts of David Wayne and Mike Howe era Metal Church, Warlord, and Helstar. Yeah, Swanson possesses the pipes to be mentioned in the same sentence as the frontmen of the aforementioned groups. While his soaring vocals are my favorite aspect of Sumerland's eponymous debut album, Rizk's guitar work also brought a huge smile to my face.

Every single song on Sumerlands includes at least two or three guitar riffs that got stuck in my head after the first go around. In terms of the guitar solos, the stuff is just as memorable as the vocal parts, and always keeps the melodious spirit of the songwriting at its heart. Speaking of melody, there's a track on the record called "Haunted Forever" that is so god damn catchy, I found myself repeating it three times before moving on to the next song.

Photo: Jaclyn Woollard

If you've seen the press Sumerlands has been getting, you've noticed the "throwback metal" tag many writers are using to descibe the album and band, but the problem with that is most of the groups that get lumped in with that look the part but can't write anywhere as good as the bands they were inspired by. This isn't the case with Sumerlands. Despite this being their first album together, the band already sounds confident in the songwriting department, and they've delivered a Metal Album of the Year contender right out of the gate.

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